About CESP

The Center for Existential Studies and Psychotherapy (CESP) is an open, not for profit community of psychotherapists interested in the relationship between existentialism and psychotherapy.

Grounded by an awareness of our mortality, existentialism is a powerful approach that focuses on universal aspects of the human condition. These factors include freedom, responsibility, aloneness, guilt, and the search for meaning. These distinctive features of existential thinking can be applied to all types of psychotherapy.

CESP was founded in 2014 by Washington, DC based psychotherapists Jane Prelinger, MSW, and Michael Stiers, PhD.  The two psychodynamic clinicians shared an interest in existentialism, and were curious about how an existential sensibility could enhance their work with patients. Together, Prelinger and Stiers began to convene groups of therapists interested in exploring existential themes in their clinical work, and lives, using film, literature, poetry, and philosophy.

Our Thoughts on Inclusion

We, the core faculty of the Center for Existential Studies and Psychotherapy, regard the persistence of gross social inequities in the United States as a betrayal of “the proposition that all [humans] are created equal.” We oppose societal structures and attitudes that foster or tolerate inequity on the basis of any individual or group attribute, including race, gender, sexuality, religion, class, ability, language, appearance, or national background. The tenacity of bigotry in our culture makes it urgent to keep addressing these matters. At times, during programs or discussions we’re sponsoring, we may shift from the planned topic to questions of diversity and privilege as they arise. We regret that we’ll sometimes handle such situations imperfectly. We’re committed to learning from our mistakes, and we’re committed to ongoing examinations of our own biases, conscious and otherwise. These commitments are central to our values. Those values include the following propositions:

    • We are defined not by the circumstances we’re thrown into, but rather by what we choose to do, say, or think within those circumstances. We always have decisions to make, including the decision to avoid making an active choice.  Passivity lets no one off the hook of responsibility. 
    • We all share a common humanity and we are all more different from each other than we can imagine. Both are true. Both are grounds for mutual generosity and care.
    • Good questions are more important than good answers.
    • Humility is never optional.
    • Uncertainty opens the door for curiosity and learning.
    • People matter more than ideas do.
    • Challenging what we think we know allows us to discover what we do not yet know.

Future Offerings

Existential Therapy and Phases of Development Seminar Series

Chair: Megan Flood, MSW

The focus of these periodic seminars will be on how an existentially oriented therapeutic approach is helpful in working with clients in various developmental phases of life, such as the reproductive phase, middle age, and later life.

Developmental Seminar One: Working with Clients in the Reproductive Phase

Megan Flood, MSW and Rachel Freedman, PhD

Saturday, April. 9, 2022, 9 am – 12 pm, EST, via ZOOM

The reproductive phase of life is a time in which clients seek our assistance in finding personal agency, clarifying values and life goals, mourning losses, and setbacks, and experiencing overwhelming joy. In this three-hour seminar, we will examine clinical concerns stemming from the reproductive phase, and seek to explain and elucidate how an existential psychotherapy approach can be useful in helping clients navigate this complex stage. Terror Management Theory (TMT), a relatively new theory used to understand existential concerns, will be introduced and drawn upon to further explain a wide variety of perinatal issues.

Clinical material will be shared to illustrate some of the ways an existential lens can be helpful in work with clients. Specific presenting issues will be covered, including infertility, pregnancy complications, decision-making, the option to remain child-free, breast-feeding issues, and perinatal losses.

  • CEUs: 2.5
  • Cost: $75


To register, contact us

Reading & Book-signing

Richard Smith, PhD

Saturday, May 14, 2022, 10:30 am – noon

Richard Smith will read from his book Not a Soul but Us, winner of the 2021 May Sarton New Hampshire Poetry Prize, and field questions and sign books. We’ll gather in Rock Creek Park at an outdoor picnic shelter that has a roof in case of rain but is otherwise open-air.

Not a Soul but Us is a story told in 84 sonnets, set in a remote village in medieval England, where the bubonic plague pandemic wipes out half the population. Left behind are a 12-year-old shepherd boy and his dog, who keep their flock alive through a brutal winter—and then must figure out how to reconnect with life as it moves forward.

To register, contact us


Current and Past Offerings

Book Club 3.0 – Thought as Mental Action – Psychological Responsibility

Richard Smith, PhD / March – November 2021

  • Oedipus at Colonus (Sophocles)
  • Invisible Man (Ralph Ellison)
  • The Winter’s Tale (William Shakespeare)
  • Howards End (E.M. Forster)

Book Club 2.0 – Self-Creation and the Creative Self – Decision Points

Richard Smith, PhD / March – November 2020

  • Mrs. Dalloway (Virginia Woolf)
  • Beloved (Toni Morrison)
  • Measure for Measure (William Shakespeare)
  • Middlemarch (George Eliot)

Book Club 1.0 – Existential Shipwrecks

Richard Smith, PhD / March – May 2019

 The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Milan Kundera) 

 King Lear (William Shakespeare)

 Villette (Charlotte Bronte)


The Existential Sensibility: Self and Psychotherapy in an Uncertain World
(Co-sponsored with the Washington School of Psychiatry)
Special guest: Carlo Strenger, PhD, Professor of Psychology and Philosophy, Tel Aviv University
April 7-8, 2017

Movie Nights

Julie Mitchell, LPC, Discussant
April 23, 2021

Grey Gardens
Megan Flood, MSW, Discussant
August 20, 2020

Charlotte Blutstein, LPC, Discussant
May 17, 2019

Barry Wepman, PhD, Discussant
September 15, 2017

(Co-sponsored with the Center for Race, Ethnicity and Culture of the Washington School of Psychiatry)
Reginald Nettles, PhD and Michael Stiers, PhD, Discussants
May 6, 2016

The Sheltering Sky
Emily Randall, MSW, Discussant
January 20, 2016

Michael Stadter, PhD, Discussant
September 18, 2015

The Swimmer
Jane Prelinger, MSW, Discussant
May 1, 2015

The Barbarian Invasions
Michael Stiers, PhD, Discussant
February 6, 2015

The Trip
Jane Prelinger, MSW, Discussant
November 14, 2014


Death Café
CESP Death Café
Jane Prelinger, MSW, Megan Flood, MSW, Richard Smith, PhD, Michael Stadter, PhD, Michael Stiers, PhD
October 20, 2018

An Existential Salon, Featuring the Poetry of Jonathan Stillerman, Ph.D.
Jane Prelinger, MSW, and Michael Stiers, PhD, Discussants
November 18, 2016


Existential Therapy: The Workshop 3.0
Michael Stadter, PhD and Jane Prelinger, MSW
October 2021 – May 2022

Existential Therapy: The Workshop 2.0
Michael Stadter, PhD and Jane Prelinger, MSW
October 2020 – May 2021

Existential Therapy: The Workshop 1.0
Michael Stadter, PhD and Jane Prelinger, MSW
October 2019 – March 2020

Topics in Existential Psychotherapy
CESP Faculty and Michael Stiers, PhD and Emily Randall, MSW, Guest Lecturers
October 2017 – May 2018

Supervision Groups
Existential Ideas and Clinical Work
Jane Prelinger, MSW and Michael Stiers, PhD
September 2014 – June 2018


We can be reached using this form.

Center for Existential Studies and Psychotherapy

4910 Massachusetts Avenue NW
STE 223
Washington DC 20016



We can be reached using this form.

4910 Massachusetts Avenue NW
STE 223
Washington DC 20016


15 + 13 =